01: American confidence in religious institutions is at a 30-year low, down to 45 percent, according to a recent Gallup Poll.
The annual Gallup Poll on confidence in institutions reveal that while the Protestant confidence rate of 59 percent is about the same as a year ago, Catholic trust dropped to 42 percent. Although this year’s poll broke down respondents into Protestant and Catholic for comparison, it usually does not make that division.
Yet a Gallup poll on confidence in religion in 1991 found that Catholics and Protestants were virtually the same in how they ranked religion.
02: Forecasts that the upcoming generation of evangelical college students were likely to liberalize their faith have not materialized, according to a recent study.
In the magazine Books & Culture (July-August), James M. Penning and Corwin E. Smidt present a new study that updates and contradicts James D. Hunter’s groundbreaking book “Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation,” in which he found that students at evangelical colleges were losing hold of the orthodox teachings of evangelicalism and gradually moving toward a “progressive” worldview.
Penning and Smidt compare Hunter’s 1982 study with a survey they conducted in the late 1990s among students at nine evangelical colleges and universities. The authors, who have cowritten “Evangelicalism: The Next Generation” (Baker), find more continuity than slippage on evangelical basics:
More than 85 percent strongly agreed that there is no other way of salvation than through Christ. The same was true for evangelical practices, with relatively high rates of participation in prayer and Bible study. Hunter’s view that the growing diversity he found among evangelicals (including the dropping of certain social taboos, such as dancing) means a move toward secularization doesn’t necessarily follow, since there has always been a great deal of diversity in evangelicalism, the authors write.
(Books & Culture, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188)
03: Regular church attendance is likely to raise the prospects of marriage for urban women, according to a University of Pennsylvania study.
The study, conducted by the university’s Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, analyzed data from 3,886 married and unmarried mothers and found that urban mothers who attend church several times a month are 100 percent more likely to be married at the time of giving birth compared to their counterparts who do not attend services regularly. Those church attending mothers who give birth out of wedlock are 90 percent more likely to marry compared to urban mothers not attending frequently.
The relation between church attendance and marriage was particularly strong for African-American mothers. Yet there is not a consistent connection between marriage and churchgoing. Researcher Bradley Wilcox found that one-third of all unwed, urban mothers are frequent churchgoers. This could mean that “many unmarried mothers are more integrated into the social fabric of their communities than we once thought.”
(Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society, http://www.crrucs.org)
04: A study by Ellison research finds lukewarm support among Protestant clergy for faith-based social service initiatives as well as the belief that some religious groups should not be eligible for such programs.
In a survey of 567 Protestant clergy, only 20 percent of respondents strongly supported President Bush’s Faith-based and Community Initiatives Act, which permits federal funds to be used by religious organizations to offer social services. Another 47 percent say they “somewhat support” the program. Twenty three percent “somewhat oppose” it. Most of the concerns about the initiative revolved around which religious groups will be eligible for funding and about whether their own religious freedom might be jeopardized.
A majority of pastors (62 percent) agree that “Certain religious groups should not be eligible for funding through this program, although no groups were identified by name.
05: A comparative study of 21 countries reveals that those nations with a Protestant heritage are far more likely to have embraced environmentalism than the others.
In the current issue of the Hedgehog Review (Spring), sociologist Robert Bellah cites the unpublished work of David Vogel of the University of California at Berkeley, who created a rating system for 21 of the richest nations regarding their involvement in the environmental cause.
The nations were divided into two groups: “light green,” those countries mainly involved with the quality of air and water that directly affect their own populations; and “dark green,” countries concerned with the ecosphere, including endangered species, rain forests, ozone holes and “all the rest.”
Vogel finds that all but one of the dark green countries (the exception is Austria) are of Protestant heritage, and none of the light green countries are. The latter include six Catholic countries, one Greek Orthodox country (Greece), one Jewish country (Israel), and three Confucian/Buddhist countries (Japan, Korea, and Taiwan). Vogel argues that it is not so much a direct connection with the doctrines of Protestantism (he notes that evangelical Protestants are among the groups least involved in environmentalism).
Rather, “dark green” environmentalism functions as a secularized version of Protestantism in these countries. Both environmentalism and Protestantism share a relatively pessimistic view of the world, they tend to make strong moral judgments, and share a romantic and “aesthetic appreciation of nature” (partly because much of Protestantism does not have a strong sense of liturgy and sacramentalism), and stress responsibility in dealing with nature.
(Hedgehog Review, P.O. Box 400816, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4816)
06: In the post-Cold War context, religion in Europe may now acquire a new credibility, due in part to a disenchantment with ideologies, according to a new study. Since 1981, the European Value Survey (EVS) has been conducted three times, and the results of the 1999 survey have now been analyzed.
A perspective of inevitable secularization is revealed to be inaccurate in describing the European reality: the situation is now completely open and makes the prospects quite unpredictable. The 1999 survey covered no less than 34 countries (i.e. most of Western and Eastern Europe). In its July-August issue, the French journal Futuribles analyzes the results, with the focus on Western Europe. Among the different domains of life, family, work and leisures rank as more important than religion to Western Europeans in most countries: religion takes precedence over leisure only in Portugal, Italy, and Greece. In 11 selected European Union countries, an average of 17 percent consider religion as “very important.”
However, politics gets significantly lower grades (8 percent). There are also strong variations from one country to another (48 percent of Greeks consider religion as “very important”, but only 8 percent of Danes). As with several other results, such a finding suggests that one should beware of lumping together even those countries belonging to the European Union.
Seventeen percent of Western Europeans consider agreement on religious issues as “very important” for a successful marriage. However, one should notice that the percentage is much higher among older people and decreases among younger people (only 11 percent of those under 35 deem it to be “very important”).The percentage of non-practicing Christians and — most of all — of people claiming to have no religion has increased over the past twenty years.
Interestingly, however, the public image of Christian Churches has improved: while 44 percent of Western Europeans believed that Churches could answer spiritual needs in 1981, 52 percent shared that opinion in 1999. So there are obviously conflicting tendencies.
According to French sociologist of religion Yves Lambert, three main trends can be identified: a continuing move away from religion; a revival of Christian commitment (practicing Christians becoming more involved, and more of them now affirming orthodox Christian doctrines such as a personal God, sin or hell); and the growth of alternative beliefs among agnostics “in the form of individualized, unfocused ideas not related to Christianity.”
Regarding the last point, Lambert notices an increase in the percentage of people without a religious affiliation who feel themselves to be “religious,” and pray from time to time or believe in eternal life. Consequently, the image of religion in Europe appears to be more diversified than ever, and certainly cannot be reduced to monolinear secularization.
(Futuribles, 55 rue de Varenne, 75341 Paris Cedex 07, France. http://www.futuribles.com)
— By Jean-François Mayer, RW contributing editor who edits the Website Religioscope, http://www.religioscope.com)
07: A study of Muslim refugees from the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo finds that maintaining optimism and postitive attitudes during such trauma was related to religious coping and high religiosity.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Michigan, surveyed 138 war refugees who had undergone war-related terror and massive dislocation. The magazine Research News & Opportunities In Science And Religion (July/August) reports that the respondents, mainly Muslims (along with some Catholics) used “positive religious/spiritual coping” more than “negative religious coping” in a similar way to that of Christians previously studied.
Positive religious coping, which involve finding hope and divine purpose through one’s plight, is contrasted with negative religious coping, such as blaming God or seeing one’s situation as divine punishment. Such positive religious coping was also correlated with increased religiosity and higher education.
(Research News & Opportunities In Science And Religion, 415 Clarion Dr., Durham, NC 27705; http://www.researchnewsonline.org)